Fulton Street (2/3/4/5/A/C/J/Z)
This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.
Fulton Center opened with great fanfare in November 2014. A glassy steel pavilion with multiple subterranean levels, this downtown transit hub currently connects five subway stations from William Street to Church Street, and will eventually provide links to the PATH terminal and Brookfield Place. Following 9/11, various projects were financed by the Federal government to help revive the battered environs of the World Trade Center, including the transformation of two major transit facilities. Though Santiago Calatrava’s PATH terminal on Church Street has garnered most of the attention due to its unusual design, in terms of daily use, Fulton Center is likely to have a very significant impact on residents, workers, and visitors to the area.
Designed by Grimshaw Architects, Fulton Center has an almost Miesian purity, with glass walls punctuated by tapered pillars that extend the full height of each facade. At the top of this understated horizontal mass rises an angled conical dome topped by a glazed oculus. Nicholas Grimshaw, who established his own practice in London in 1980, has specialized in transit design, including the current bus shelter (and related structures) used by the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Inside the spiraling 80-foot-tall dome hangs architect-sculptor James Carpenter’s mesmerizing “Sky-Reflector Net.” Made of diamond-shaped aluminum panels set within a delicate web of stainless steel, this curved tubular form serves as a natural focal point and helps disperse some ambient (as well as artificial) light into the glass-and-granite interiors. Ringed by digital screens that project art and advertising, as well as retail space, the lower levels are configured to accommodate the arrangement of the various subway lines and their related traffic flow.
A major goal of Grimshaw’s design was to simplify circulation. Over time the Fulton Street station had become a confusing maze of often hard-to-locate train platforms, narrow connecting passageways, ramps, and stairs. Though not every tight spot and inconvenience has been completely eliminated, Fulton Center is now more pleasant than it ever was. Not only do the elevators make it ADA compliant – a rare find in a century-old transit system – but the luxury of ample open space makes it much easier for commuters to comprehend and navigate. Its well worth the effort to try to view the roomy atrium from different levels and angles. Though seating is not provided to appreciate the daily spectacle, from opening day visitors have appropriated the deep window ledges at street level to serve this purpose.
Along John Street, Fulton Center also incorporates the historic Corbin Building. Commissioned by banker and railroad executive Austin Corbin, this brightly-colored terra-cotta-clad structure was designed by Francis H. Kimball, who played a leading role in the early development of the skyscraper. Embellished with Corbin’s (and other yet to be explained) initials, the 1889 building now integrates a passage to the atrium, as well as escalators to the subway.
– Matthew A. Postal